Nick Demos is an Advanced Sommelier and the Brand Manager around these parts for Kermit Lynch. But, mostly, Nick is known for being an all around nice guy. As one restaurant manager I know said: "He does not make you feel totally inadequate while you are learning about wine." Nick tasted and talked four wines on Zoom on December 17th hosted by Tryon Distribution and MetroWines in Asheville.
Representing Kermit Lynch is a big deal because Kermit Lynch is a big deal. Although Kermit himself is a domestic product, San Luis Obispo to be exact, his name is synonymous with French and Italian wines. A writer and musician by trade, Kermit started his retail wine business in the early 1970s in Berkeley with $5,000 and 35 boxes. He went deeper into the biz becoming a distributor and importer with a focus on "authentic wines that express their terroir." So, this revolution in the glass is all going on at the same time Alice Waters of Chez Panisse is revolutionizing what's on our plates.
Winner of two James Beard awards and knighted by the French government with their prestigious "Legion d"Honneur," Kermit is also the author of three books: Adventures on the Wine Route (1988), Inspiring Thirst (2004), and the 25th Anniversary Edition: Adventures on the Wine Route (2013). These days, partially retired, Kermit splits his time between Berkeley and Provence. "He is spending increasingly more time in Bandol," Nick says.
Bandol is home to Domaine Tempier. When Lucie “Lulu” Tempier married Lucien Peyraud in 1936, her father gave them Domaine Tempier, an active farm that had been in the family since 1834, near Le Plan du Castellet, just outside the Mediterranean seaport village of Bandol. Kermit says: "Of all of the domaines we represent, no other serves more as our cornerstone, stands more in the defense of terroir, and is more intricately interwoven with our own history, than that of the iconic Peyraud family of Domaine Tempier."
If you have read the MetroWines blog "Unfiltered" or our Newsletter, "The Public Palate: Putting Wine in Its Place," you know that I don't actually write about wine, I write around it. So while Nick is speaking wine in a very informative and poetic way, all I can think of is whether he met Kermit! I have to ask. Nick says "no, but almost," and he almost met Lulu.
At 102, Lulu is still considered, Nick says, "the mother of Provencal cooking." And, Nick told us, that the famed Alice Waters, "lived with Lulu to learn her cooking." When Nick was at Domaine Tempier, Lulu was taking an afternoon nap. Nick was asked if he would like the family to wake her. Tough call. (He did not say it but I bet that Jeopardy music was going through his head.) Nick knows this is probably his last chance to meet this living legend, but, as he says, he did not want to be remembered as the "American who woke Lulu up." Good call. See, I told you he was a nice guy.
Anyway, lets get on to the tasting. You can read the details of the wine on the Kermit Lynch website. What I really wanted to know was the cool stuff like the Lulu thing. So, here we go...
The first wine Nick presented was Quenard Les Abymes Jacquere from Savoie France. (https://www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/andre-et-michel-quenard/) Nick says that the vines are grown on steep hills. I mean really steep. Downhill erosion, Nick says, is a "big factor." So big that "after the harvest, workers must bring the soil back up the hill." (now that's cool) Regarding the wine, what Nick appreciates most is "the spectrum of minerality." (Is that a great wine line or what?)
Next up was Chateau La Grave Cahors Malbec, Southwest France. (https://www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/chateau-la-grave/). Now I am telling you that I don't know where this came from but Nick started telling us how "the Greeks were the first culture to drink wine socially." Nick is of Greek descent. This prompted me, circling around the wine, to ask him, as wine is an intrinsic part of his DNA, if he agreed with Elisabetta Fagiuoli of Montenedoli (we met her on Zoom last week), that you can't trust people who do not drink wine. Nick said that was the easiest question that he had ever answered, "yes!"
The more studious among us asked Nick about the difference between French Malbec and Argentine versions of the varietal. Nick said that France is cooler than Argentina so the wines display more salinity, minerality and earthiness. Nick prefers the French.
Now, we move to Italy and the members of Ciao Asheville, the Italian Cultural Forum in town, who are on the Zoom are moving closer to the screen. First up is Il Palazzotto Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba. (https://www.kermitlynch.com/our-wines/palazzotto/). Here we learned one of three new Italian words: sori. This is a term reserved for historical vineyards. And this sori made wine (can you say that?) "is what the Piemontese drink," says Nick. He clearly LOVES this wine. I think he stomped his foot when he said: "If you don't like this wine, you don't like Dolcetto!"
But this is truly serious business. This higher altitude vineyard just north of Barolo (OMG say the magic word)"is one of the most, if not THE most perfect places on earth for Dolcetto." Nick has a lot of it in his cellar. Judging from the sales the day after the Zoom, a lot of Asheville basements, including mine, will be lined with this Dolcetto. Perfetta!
Barbaresco is up next and our second new Italian word: neve. Nick says this means as "good as it gets." Much like the French Pinot Noir grape, the Nebbiolo grape that makes Barbaresco, is "thin skinned and finicky," Nick says. Nebbiolo is from the Italian word (number three!) nebbia, meaning fog. The Ciao Asheville Zoomers are feeling a little smug now. We knew that!
Because of the similar viticultural challenges in Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, the Italians sent winemakers to France to learn the techniques of growing this scamp of a grape.
Now Nick is coming into my world, "wines don't know political boundaries." This brought on the dilemma of big barrels that impart no oak and small barrels that make wine that needs to age. The Italians have resolved this problem by using 80% big barrels and 20% barrique. Now, Nick says, "they can produce traditionally made Barbaresco that can be served now."
We all thanked Nick for walking us through the Kermit Lynch wines. But I can't help thinking, say what you will about me! that I might have nudged Lulu and blamed it on the wind: "Le Mistral! Comment pourrais-je savoir." Nick is such a nice guy.